Pay-as-you-go broadband

ByAnthony Hill
Man counting up money

If you want cheap access to the internet, or just don't want to enter a lengthy contract, pay-as-you-go broadband could be the answer...

Getting abroadband connectionat home will usually involve a lengthy contract and monthly line rental, which can put some people off. But there are some pay-as-you-go options, which could save you money or better suit your needs.

Here we'll explain how pay-as-you-go broadband works, and look at some of benefits.

Pay-as-you-go home broadband

No internet service provider (ISP) in the UK currently offers broadband on a pay-as-you-go basis.

However, short contracts are available from some providers, including Plusnet ( Contracts with most providers are typically 12 months.

Shorter contracts usually come with a higher monthly cost, but you may think the added flexibility is worth paying a premium for.

The cheapest deals are usually on longer 18 or 24-month contracts, so it may be worth considering these too. Use our broadband price calculator to find the best option for you.

Pay-as-you-go mobile broadband

Most pay-as-you-go broadband packages are now offered by the mobile phone networks, in the form of mobile broadband - a connection you can take with you wherever you go.

Once you've chosen your USB dongle, which enables you to connect your laptop, netbook or tablet to the web, you simply pay for each day or week you use.

Alternatively, you can opt for a full 30 days. There are some great deals on the mobile broadband market, with pay-as-you-go packages from as little as £2 a day.

What is mobile broadband?

Instead of coming down a phone line or fibre optic cable, mobile broadband uses the 3G mobile phone signal to connect you to the internet. Your provider will give you a dongle, which you simply plug into your computer. You'll be able to access the web wherever you go, provided you have mobile phone reception.

Is pay-as-you-go broadband right for me?

Pay-as-you-go mobile broadband is perfect for light users or anyone on a tight budget.

It works in the same way as a pay-as-you-go mobile phone, where you simply top-up your dongle for however long you want to be online.

But you need to be aware that any data you don't use will normally expire after 30 days. You will also have to buy your dongle upfront, though this can cost less than £20.

While pay-as-you-go broadband is great for keeping track of your costs, you will usually get better value for money from a contract deal.

The benefits of 'no contract' broadband

Broadband without a contract is a great way of trying out technology to check it's right for you.

Although mobile broadband has now been around a while, it has only really become popular in recent years as prices have dropped and download allowances increased.

However, many of the packages available still involve a lengthy 12, 18 or 24-month commitment.

As it stands, heavy downloaders will not be able to ditch their home broadband in favour of a mobile connection. Speeds are generally much less than with a fixed line and customers face extra charges for exceeding their download limit.

Having said that, mobile broadband speeds are increasing and prices will continue to fall as the technology becomes cheaper and more widespread.

Eventually, it could become a real contender to fixed line connections, allowing users to ditch their landline and save over £160 a year on line rental alone.

Mobile broadband : Contract vs pay-as-you-go

Once you've decided you want mobile broadband, you have a choice of either signing a contract or using a more flexible pay-as-you-go service. Let's compare the two options:


As a general rule, you get better value for money when you commit to 12 or 18-month contract for your mobile broadband connection. Providers such as Three ( will give you generous amounts of data, in many cases as much as 15GB, while others including Orange ( can give you "unlimited" downloads governed by a fair use policy.

But contracts aren't just for heavy users. There are also cheaper packages available, offering around 500MB or 1GB for less than £10 a month.

Another possible advantage of signing a contract is that you may be eligible for a "free laptop" deal that can help you spread the cost of buying a new computer.

The main drawback is that most mobile broadband contracts come with a lengthy 12, 18 or even 24-month minimum term. Think carefully before signing on the dotted line.


If you're only an occasional web user, or perhaps just want to try the technology before signing a long contract, pay-as-you-go mobile broadband may be a suitable option.

Although you'll need to buy a dongle outright - at a cost of around £15 or £20 - there is no minimum term to serve. You'll only one day or week at a time, giving you far more flexibility.

Unless you're only looking for a temporary solution, it is rarely cheaper in the long run to choose pay-as-you-go over a 12-month contract.

If you don't want to commit for too long, you might also consider a one-month rolling contract.

Student mobile broadband

These days broadband is a bare necessity for students, but once you've added line rental the cost of having a fixed line connection can really start to add up.

Provided you find the best deal, mobile broadband can sometimes be a more suitable option and better value for students moving into private accommodation.

Below are a couple of things consider when looking at mobile broadband for students:

Download limits and extra costs

In order to keep your bills down, you need to make absolutely sure that you don't exceed your monthly download allowance. Data limits range from 500MB to 15GB, and some providers offer an "unlimited" service - so shop around and find a package that suits your needs.

Fees for exceeding your allowance can be very high, but some providers offer data add-ons to prevent you being charged extra. But it's still normally cheaper in the long run to pay more upfront for a bigger allowance than adding more data once you run out.

Mobile broadband coverage

A mobile broadband connection not only helps you save money, it can also be taken anywhere you go with your laptop, netbook or tablet - whether it's the library, coffee shop or pub. Just make sure you check the mobile broadband coverage of your chose provider before signing up. It's a good idea to check more than one postcode to ensure you'll get good reception wherever you plan to go with your computer.

Choosing a mobile broadband provider

When it comes to choosing a mobile broadband package, you need to think about more than just upfront costs, monthly fees and the length of your contract if you have one.

You need to bear in mind:

  • Coverage - Mobile broadband speeds can vary massively from urban towns and cities to rural areas, which often have quite poor 3G reception. This makes it really important to check your local coverage before signing up.
  • Download allowance - It doesn't make sense to choose the cheapest package available if you're likely to exceed its small download limit. You should think about how you use the internet and opt for the deal that best suits your requirements - even if it means paying a little more.
  • Speed - Mobile broadband is normally quite a lot slower than your fixed home broadband connection. So it's not really suitable if you want to play online games without lag or need high performance and reliability above all else.

Use our price calculator to find the best broadband deal for you.

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